My favourite places
"The New Forest"
This is a real personal view of two of my favourite places, which I'd like to show you around. If we were in the UK together these are the places and things I'd take you to see, but this virtual tour will have to do instead.
First is The New Forest on the central south coast of England, an area I love and which I'd really like anyone visiting the UK to see. It's my favourite place in the world.
Another area I like very much is the Peak District in Derbyshire, further north in the midlands. I'll tell you a bit about that too, if you have time.
They're very different areas, but in their own unique ways they give you beautiful countryside, towns and villages and history that goes back centuries.
I'll assume you're in London because that's where most visitors to Britain head for. To get to the New Forest you head south from London to Hampshire. You don't need a car in London, in fact you're better off without one. So take the easy train trip to Southampton, Bournemouth or Winchester. I recommend you pick up a hire car there - getting around is so much easier and quicker and you'll see far more if you have a car. The New Forest is a unique area of about 385 square kilometres bounded by the cities of Bournemouth to the west, Southampton to the east and Winchester to the north.
It's an area set aside over 900 years ago by William the Conqueror for for his exclusive hunting pleasure. The atmosphere is unchanged and many of the unique customs have lasted over the centuries and continue today. If like me you like animals, this is a magic place because it's an area where animals roam freely. You'll see ponies, donkeys, cattle, deer and pigs wandering around all over the place, not only in the open forest but into the villages too. They're owned by 'commoners' - people who own or rent particular houses or cottages which have 'commoners' rights' that go back centuries. One of these rights is to allow their animals to graze freely in the forest.
In unbelievably crowded England it's one of the few open areas which can be explored without the problem of fences, private land, farmland, sticking to rights-of-way and so on. Just wander where you like. Less than half is actually forest - the rest is open heathland, with pasture and small villages.
I love the open spaces, the freedom of the place, the animals wandering freely.
One of the first things you'll notice is that all the grass is cut beautifully short, as though an army of gardeners is constantly at work. It's actually the work of the free-roaming animals, in particular the famous New Forest ponies. You'll come across them all over the forest - in the villages they often appear to be looking into the shop windows!
In the summer, which is obviously the best time to be there, you'll see many foals. They stay close to their mothers who, like all mothers, can get a little aggressive if they think their baby is in any danger. They seem friendly enough and will often come right up to you for food. The law actually forbids people from feeding the animals - it encourages them near the traffic and many are killed or injured by cars every year. You can get close to them of course, in fact they'll walk up close to you, but don't forget that they are wild animals.
Here are a couple of photos that show how friendly the animals are - but also the possible problem if they get a bit cranky!
We were having a picnic and Geina was eating an apple, a big pony could obviously smell it...
...another day, mother donkey brought her baby over to the picnic table to see what was available. This, by the way, is one of our favourite places in The New Forest, Hatchet Pond. It's a place all types of animals go for water and is also a magnet for many different types of birds.
This unusual white donkey followed Geina around for ages. He obviously assumed there was food in her bag, which there wasn't, and followed her, nuzzling the bag, until he decided it was empty, when he wandered off.
And in the north of the forest, where most of the donkey herds live, this group of donkies seem to be waiting for the pub to open!
Now we're in the village of Piley, and that seems to be a queue waiting for the Post Office to open! A tidy, well-organised queue, but it really should be along the pavement not across the road. Still, the animals have right of way in the Forest, so the cars just have to wait or find a way around them.
That's the way it should be, I think! Slow down, let the animals go at their own pace, relax, watch and enjoy. That's one of the things about The New Forest, it's so relaxing.
Talking about donkies, a pair seem to have made their home in Beaulieu (pronounced Bewlee),one of the prettiest villages in the New Forest. They're usually on a grassy area by the river, where they pester people trying to have a quiet picnic for any food they can get. Every so often they wander into the main street and peer through the shop doorway. The lady you can see in the picture is bringing a bucket of water out for them, which is obviously what they go there for.
Beaulieu is a beautiful village, and it's very pleasant to just stroll around. It's in the southern part of the Forest, not far from the coast. Like so many of the villages in the UK, it's remained largely unchanged for centuries, with very pretty cottages and pleasant walks around the lanes.
It's also where you'll find Lord Montagu's estate. This is open to the public and is where you can see the Palace House, the 13th Century Abbey and the famous National Motor Museum. For anyone interested in motor cars, there's an astonishing collection here.
The Montagu Arms Hotel, which dates back to the 16th Century, is a great place for a drink at the bar or in the garden, and the food is superb.
And if you're interested in history, nearby Buckler's Hard is where ships for Lord Nelson's fleet were built.
This is Beaulieu's riverside area where the donkeys like to stay.
This is main street of Beaulieu. Just round the corner at the bottom is the Montagu Arms hotel with its excellent restaurants and bars, the river and Lord Montagu's estate.
This southern coastal stretch of The New Forest has the main population areas, mainly the towns of Lymington, Barton-on-Sea, Milford-on-Sea and New Milton.
The beaches aren't great - just over the Forest border to the West in Bournemouth is where you'll find beautiful golden sandy beaches - but you'll find all the shops, restaurants, pubs and other services that you need.
My favourite is Lymington, an old but bustling town and a busy international yachting centre. Our daily routine is an espresso or two and reading the morning paper in one of the cafes, then a stroll to the marina to watch the comings and goings of the yachts and the on-board hustle and bustle.
To reach the marina, walk down cobbled Quay Hill and turn right into Quay Street .
You can almost feel the smugglers of centuries gone by struggling up the hill with their barrels of brandy and rum.
For a leisurely lunch or dinner, or just a drink, The Ship Inn is right on the water edge overlooking the marina. On a warm day, or especially evening, a table in the garden is great, but inside is a nice traditional pub with a very nice restaurant area, very good food and reasonable prices.
The marina, and pub, are just at the end of Quay Street, maybe 50 metres along. This is the view from the pub garden. Lymington has a big street market on Saturdays which stretches the length of the High Street - which is closed to traffic on market day. There are stalls selling speciality food, fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, sweets, handicrafts, flowers and plants, clothing...it's well worth a visit.
On one trip to the New Forest in August the heather was in full bloom. There were acres and acres of the purple flowers all over the forest - quite a sight. I couldn't resist a photo of Geina and I amongst it!
Not only in The New Forest but also in country lanes all over Britain there are blackberry bushes. Late Summer is the time the fruit is ripe, so there was plenty ready for picking. Geina loves fruit, and when it's as fresh as this, well, she spent quite a lot of time picking and eating!
North of the Forest you'll find the ancient capital of England, Winchester. This is a must visit too. Park on the outskirts and stroll into the city centre or use the Park & Ride facility - park the car and then you can use the free bus service all day long to get around the city. Quite a bit of the ancient city still stands and you'll even find buildings dating back to the thirteen hundreds. Winchester Cathedral is beautiful, with the longest nave in Europe and the tombs of early English Kings and Jane Austen's grave. The house where she died is nearby too.
Our favourite building is The Great Hall. Dating back to the 13th Century, it's where you'll find King Arthur's Round Table, which has hung there for over 600 years.
The northern part of the Forest is sparsely populated, just small villages dotted around. At a tiny place called Godshill you'll find a pottery. Do stop and go in, they have unique and, to my eye, beautiful pottery items. There are many wonderful old pubs in this area, so refreshment stops are a pleasure. One of our favourites is the Lamb Inn at Nomansland. It overlooks the village green, has a nice garden at the back, serves great food at reasonable prices.
This is perfect horseriding country, so that's something you might think about doing one day. Horses and ponies are available for hire. This northern section is also the place to see deer if you go deeper into the forest
The New Forest has 'Inclosures' - areas of plantation trees which are fenced off from the animals, and were first created way back in the fourteen hundreds - and 'Ancient & Ornamental Woodlands', which to me are the true forest. These areas of ancient oak and beech trees have a timeless feel about them. Standing quietly in a sun-dappled glade amongst the huge trees, watching wild animals grazing is a spine-tingling experience. People must have been doing it for a thousand years, and you somehow feel it.
When you're in the northern part of the forest, it's worth driving a little way further north to visit Salisbury. It's a lovely old city full of beautiful old buildings and with an absolutely magnificent cathedral.
Building of the medieval cathedral was started in 1220 and finished in 1258, except for the spire which is the tallest in England at 400 feet or 133 metres. That was added between 1285 and 1315. The cathedral has one of only four original copies of Magna Carta still in existance. This is the ground-breaking agreement made between King John and the barons, at Runnymede in 1215. Among other things, such as standard weights and measures throughout the land, it established that no free man could be imprisoned or prosecuted without fair trial before his equals. The basic principles set out in Magna Carta have been incorporated into various countries' Constitutions, including that of the USA. It's beautifully written on vellum and I find it quite spine-tingling look at it and think of the writer, some 700 years ago.
At the beginning I mentioned the pigs that roam freely around the Forest. We came across this very big one miles from anywhere. I got out of the car to take the photo, but I wasn't sure that was a smile on her face, so I took the shot and got back in pretty quickly!
"NEW FOREST PHOTOPAGE."
Hatchet Pond, one of our favourite picnic spots, with Geina and friends.
Another view of Hatchet Pond, which is a real attraction for all kinds of birds and animals. I love the open spaces as much as the forested areas of The New Forest.
This baby is only a few hours old.
Being curious, as all babies of all species are, this young one couldn't resist trying to see what I was doing.
I must admit that my favourites are donkeys. Such pretty, gentle faces. And how about these two very young babies. Is that cute or what!
Geina and new friends outside a very pleasant and typically English tearoom in Burley, a lovely typical, and very popular, New Forest village.
There are lots of very nice pubs in beautiful settings all over the New Forest.
The New Forest isn't only trees and grass, in Spring and Summer there are huge areas of very pretty wildflowers too.
Thank you for letting me show you around some of The New Forest. The next page is about a very different area, but a fascinating one - the Peak District, which I think you'll like.
"The Peak District"
For some reason, I'd never been to the Peak District before our visit to the UK in '99. My brother Robin and his wife Joan, who live just north of London, had discovered it and like it so much they've bought a caravan which they've put on a permanent site on a farm in Youlgreave, the Peak's largest village. They spend lots of weekends and their holidays there. They persuaded us to go, and having them as guides was a great help. We've been a few times since.
What a friendly place Youlgrave is too. Hilly, pretty, nice old churches, a few shops for essentials and superb food at The George. In the main street, The George is a busy pub with a great atmosphere, friendly staff and customers, no juke box, no poker machines, no pool table - perfect! The food is wonderful. The owners' son is the local butcher so the meat is the best of the best and the vegetables taste as fresh as though they've just come from the garden - which they probably have!
The Steak & Ale Pie is highly recommended and on our last visit the Pie of the Month was a sensational Game Pie - look out for it if you're in The George. Friends had grilled trout and steak and both raved about the quality.
If you have room you can finish with a traditional steamed treacle pudding with custard - mouthwatering!
That's Youlgreave, nestled down in the valley as most English villages are. (Interesting difference with Italy, where they're on hilltops).
It's pretty central, so a good base from which to explore. Actually, I like it particularly because I like The George so much, it's handy to be within walking distance! A good meal, a few drinks, and you don't want to be driving!
Realistically though, perhaps an even better base would be Bakewell, a bustling, pretty market town a river running through it, lots of shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, accommodation and a livestock market. Plenty of interesting old buildings to look at, and the people are wonderfully friendly. It's also famous for Bakewell Tart and Bakewell Pudding, and there's bitter rivalry between two places that claim to have invented the pudding.
I don't really like either, but the fresh made pork pies from Bloomers in the town centre are sensational. It's a tiny, crowded shop packed with all kinds of freshly made pies, cakes, puddings - do go in if you make it to Bakewell.
There are some very pretty villages, and cottages in idyllic locations like this one.
In Youlgreave, there is what the Guinness Book of World Records says is the smallest detached house in the world. It's called Thimble Hall, has one room down and one up - but as there's no space for stairs, there's just a ladder. It's 12 feet high and 7feetx8ft8ins - and was once home to a family of eight!
In the surrounding countryside there's not much traffic. It's actually a walking area - thousands of people, usually in small groups, tramping all over it. It's an ideal way to see the countryside and feel a part of it, of course. If you want to do that, there are plenty of shops selling outdoor gear - remember it can get pretty cold and wet even in summer.
But it's glorious country to walk around, and the regulars don't seem to mind what the weather's doing. Covered in mud, they take their walking boots off at the door of the pub or cafe and all pile in for more fuel to keep them going for further walking.
This is a very pretty teahouse just outside Youlgrave, in good walking country.
"The Bakewell Show"
If you're there at the right time of year, the Bakewell Show is something you should visit. A typical agricultural show, with competitions for all kinds of farm animals and for flowers and vegetables . There are dog & cat shows, sideshows, entertainers, market stalls, marching bands...it gives a real taste of the countryside and country life.
My favourites are the huge draft horses, Shires in particular. Such magnificent animals which are beautifully groomed and looking their very best at these shows. The harnesses are all shiny leather and polished brass, the wagons they pull are usually restored antiques, probably looking better than they ever did in their working life many decades ago.The show is in a perfect setting on the edge of town with a typical English country backdrop. On a warm sunny day, it's a lovely place to be.
While I'm a fan of the big horses, like Shires & Clydesdales, Geina likes the prize bulls. And you really see some big beasts at shows like this!
"Eyam - The Plague Village"
Apart from Bakewell and The George, an absolute must place to visit is the village of Eyam. The history is astonishing and is so well documented that you feel you're back there with the people of the time.
In 1665, The Black Death, or bubonic plague, was sweeping Europe. London was in its grip, but that was far away and the Peak District was unaffected...until George Vicars, a tailor lodging in Eyam, had a consignment of cloth sent from London. Fleas in the cloth carried the disease and soon the villagers started to fall victim. The young rector Geoffrey Mompesson, who had just moved to the village, and his predecessor Thomas Stanley, convinced the villagers to quarantine themselves so that the plague did not spread to other villages. Some fled, but most stayed. People from the surrounding area, supported by the Earl of Devonshire, the Lord Lieutenant, and other charitable neighbours, left food and other essential supplies at a pre-arranged place at the edge of the village.
It isn't clear what the population was - highest estimates are 800. In the 14 months the plague lasted, 260 of them died, but they contained the plague within the village.
The whole story is recounted in the church, where a register made from records kept at the time records the names of all the victims and the date on which they died. The stories are tragic - some victims were too young to have been named, they are recorded by their family name and 'infant'. If you read the register, you'll see a terrible story with the Hancocke family. Mrs Hancocke lost her husband and six children between August 3 and 10, 1666.
Now, in the 21st Century, you can walk around this village, you can still see the cottage where the plague started in the 15th Century, and the first victim, George Vicars the tailor, died, you can see other 'plague cottages' as they're called, where other victims died. It's an eerie, sobering experience and one you shouldn't miss if you're anywhere near this part of Britain.
And don't think this is a museum or a theme park. This is a real village with real people going about their daily lives, some of them living in the plague cottages.
"The Well Dressing tradition"
A centuries-old tradition which is unique to this area is known as well dressing. It apparently started, way back in the mists of time, as a ceremony to give thanks for fresh water. Now, various groups are allocated a well, for which they make an astonishing piece of artwork, which is displayed at their particular well. A large framework, several feet wide and high, is made from timber, then a 'canvas' of clay is laid inside the frame. Onto this are painstakingly stuck flower petals, grasses, mosses, leaves - until the masterpiece is complete. They last until the petals fade and the picture starts to fall off. If you can see them when they're freshly made, they really are something. It's not to be missed if you're in the area.
There are lots of centuries-old traditions like this kept alive, especially in country areas. It really is special to be able to be a part of something that's lasted so long.
"COTTAGES & HOUSES."
To me, nothing sums up the history of England as much as the architecture. Houses and cottages hundreds of years old, and they're still homes for people. They also reflect the areas they're in, using local materials for the structure.
These photos are some that I think reflect the heritage and style of the country.
This is a street in the village of Dunster, in the south-west county of Somerset. Aren't those cottages and the whole streetscape wonderful.
This picturesque place is a cottage in Cornwall, in the far south-west of England.
The traditional thatched roofs are used not only on small cottages but also on large houses, as with this one in the New Forest.
The next two photos are in Selworthy, a peaceful, stunningly beautiful little village in Somerset, which is so special it is now looked after by the National Trust.
Walking around Selworthy is like travelling back in time.
The next three houses are in Salisbury, Wiltshire, very close to Salisbury Cathedral in Cathedral Close. This one is my absolute favourite house, a wonderfully symetrical, simple design that is so stylish and elegant.
And finally, a reminder to anyone interested in history. The churches are not only often very beautiful buildings, they also contain books, carvings, tombstones, engravings which record interesting personal histories of their area and the people who once lived there. If you are interested in history, do visit them.
Thank you for visiting my Travelogue and for allowing me to tell you about some of my favourite places in England. I hope you enjoyed at least some of it and that it may have given you some ideas for when you visit Britain.